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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is this survey mandatory?

Yes. Title 13, United States Code, Sections 8(b), 131, and 182; Title 42, United States Code, Section 1861-76 (National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended); and Section 505 within the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, authorize this collection. Sections 224 and 225 of Title 13, require your response. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by Section 9 of Title 13 to keep your information confidential and use your responses only to produce statistics.  The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in a way that could identify your business, organization, or institution. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, your data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit data.

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2. What is the penalty for not responding?

The census law (Title 13, United States Code, Section 224), coupled with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (Title 18, Sections 3551, 3559, and 3571), provides for penalties of up to $5,000 for failure to report, and $10,000 for intentionally providing false information.

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3. My firm is no longer in business. What should I do?

Completion of the ABS report form is required even if this business has since been sold, reorganized, or ceased operations. To report that the business has closed, you should respond to the first question on the ABS online report form which asks, “Has this business ceased operations?” If another entity acquired or merged with this business during or after the survey reference year, you should report for the part of the year that this business was in operation prior to its acquisition or merger. If you need further assistance, please call our toll-free number 1-888-824-9954, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

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4. How can I obtain a copy of the data my company submitted last year?

To ensure privacy, requests must be submitted online via your Census Bureau account (or refer to your letter for instructions on how to create an account); clicking on "Options" and then 'Send a Message'.  

You will be forwarded a data release form to complete and return.  You will be notified in 1 - 2 business days if your data is available.

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5. I need more time. Can I obtain an extension? 

You may obtain a time extension by signing into your Census Bureau account (or refer to your letter for instructions on how to create an account), clicking on "Options" and then "Request Extension." You may choose any date allowed in the calendar drop down.

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6. I am a very small business. Why do you want information from me?

Your firm or EIN (Employment Identification Number) was chosen from a scientifically selected sample of businesses and represents many other small businesses like yours.

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7. How was I selected for this survey?

Your firm or EIN was chosen from a scientifically selected sample of businesses. Taking a sample is less costly than contacting every business in the country. Firms or EINs selected for the sample represent other similar businesses.

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8. Why don’t you get the information you need from the IRS?

The Census Bureau uses IRS administrative data whenever possible. However, the IRS data do not provide the level of detail or all of the data items in the ABS.

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9. Why ask about sex, race, ethnicity, and veteran status?

The Annual Business Survey (ABS) is one of the only sources of statistics about the demographic characteristics of the owners of approximately 6 million American employer businesses. The ABS is a continuation of the Survey of Business Owners (SBO) and the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE). SBO statistics have been produced every 5 years since 1972 and have proven useful in helping to understand changes taking place in our dynamic and growing economy, with the ASE recently being created to supplement the SBO on an annual basis. The results will help profile annual changes in business performance and highlight various conditions of business, and compare minority-/nonminority-, women-/men-, and veteran-/nonveteran-owned businesses.

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10. Who establishes the ethnicity and race categories listed on the survey?

The ethnicity and race categories listed on the Annual Business Survey questionnaire are consistent with those mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. These standards were developed by both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Federal Government.

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11. Who uses the data?

Government program officials, industry organization leaders, economic and social analysts and researchers, and business entrepreneurs are anticipated users of Annual Business Survey statistics. Examples of predicted data use (from prior, similar uses of the ASE and SBO) include:

  • The Small Business Administration and the Minority Business Development Agency to assess business assistance needs and allocate available program resources.
  • Local government commissions on small and disadvantaged businesses to establish and evaluate contract procurement practices.
  • Federal, state and local government agencies as a framework for planning, directing and assessing programs that promote the activities of disadvantaged groups.
  • The National Women's Business Council to assess the state of women's business ownership for policymakers, researchers, and the public at large.
  • Consultants and researchers to analyze long-term economic and demographic shifts, and differences in ownership and performance among geographic areas.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF produces a series of publications containing R&D data. These include the biennial National Science Board report, Science and Engineering Indicators, the National Patterns of R&D Resources series, the S&E State Profile series, the annual Research and Development in Industry, and the forthcoming Research and Development in Business series.
  • Congress. Members of Congress use R&D data to inform their decisions on policies intended to influence investment in innovation such as the R&D tax credit.
  • Individual business owners to analyze their operations in comparison to similar firms, compute their market share, and assess their growth and future prospects.

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12. Besides reporting electronically, are there any other ways to report?

The ABS is accessible via an electronic reporting tool. By implementing an electronic collection, the Census Bureau is able to reduce the cost of mailing and processing this annual survey.  If further assistance is needed, please contact our customer help line at 1-888-824-9954, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 8:00 pm, Eastern Time.  Please note the customer help line is only accessible during the open data collection period.

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13. How can I compile my data before reporting online?

Respondents may access a preview of the questionnaire by accessing the survey online. Respondents can access the survey online by following the instructions on the mail-out letter.

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14. How long will it take to complete this survey?

We estimate this survey will take an average of 52 minutes to complete, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information.

Send comments regarding this burden estimate or any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducing this burden, to: 

erd.survey.comments@census.gov. - Be sure to use "ERD Survey Comments 0607- 1004" as the subject.

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15. Are estimates acceptable?

Yes, carefully prepared estimates are acceptable if book figures are not readily available.

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16. Can I be paid for completing this report?

No. The law authorizing this report (Title 13, United States Code) does not authorize funds for payment.

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17. How do I navigate between items in the electronic reporting tool?

You can use the "Back" or the "Save and Continue" buttons to navigate to items immediately following and preceding the current item you are viewing. We do not recommend using the 'Back' button in your internet browser.

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18. How do I submit my form?

When you have completed your survey, at the end of the reporting instrument select the ‘Submit’ button to send your information.

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19. How do I know you received my data?

The Census Bureau updates your filing status two to three business days after you submit your data.  You may check your filing status by signing into your Census Bureau account, clicking on "Options" and then "Filing Status" or by calling 1-888-824-9954, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 8:00 pm, Eastern Time., excluding holidays, and a service representative will assist you.

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20. My company does not keep track of some of the detailed data you are requesting. What should I do?

Provide your best estimate if exact values are not available. Because every company tracks and manages their data differently, we expect companies may have to provide estimates for some questions. Due to the unique nature of your company, your best estimates will still provide useful information to the people who use these data.

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21. How should I respond if a question or item isn't applicable to my company?

Respond with "0" if there is a space that requests an amount and you do not have the activity.

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22. My company is owned by another company. How should I respond?

If your company is owned by a foreign company, please select “yes” in the “Business Ownership – Foreign Entity” question. If your company is owned by a domestic company, please select “yes” in the “Business Ownership – U.S. Entity” question. You will then be directed to answer the remaining questions that pertain to the business.

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23. My company is owned by a foreign (non-U.S.) company. Do I need to respond?

Your company was selected because it has operations in the United States and/or reports some activity to the IRS. Please respond to the survey for this portion of the company.

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24. How are the Annual Business Survey (ABS) and the Nonemployer Statistics by Demographics (NES-D) series different from the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE) or the Survey of Business Owners (SBO)?

The Annual Business Survey (ABS) is a new survey designed to combine several Census Bureau firm-level collections to reduce respondent burden, increase data quality, reduce operational costs, and operate more efficiently.  The ABS replaces the five-year Survey of Business Owners (SBO) for employer businesses, the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE), and the Business R&D and Innovation for Microbusinesses (BRDI-M) surveys. 

The Nonemployer Statistics by Demographics (NES-D) series augments the ABS, as a new annual data product that replaces the five-year SBO for nonemployer businesses, by providing similar information on the demographic characteristics of nonemployers.  NES-D provides more frequent and timely high-quality data at a lower cost than the SBO with no additional respondent burden.  The NES-D is not a survey; rather, it leverages existing individual-level administrative records to assign demographic characteristics to the universe of nonemployer businesses. Demographic characteristics including sex, ethnicity, race, veteran status, owner age, place of birth, and U.S. citizenship are assigned to nonemployer business owners.  NES-D data will be available annually by detailed geography and industry levels, receipt-size class, and legal form of organization (LFO).

The ABS and ASE sampled employer firms only, while the SBO sampled both employer firms and nonemployer firms.  Therefore, caution should be exercised in comparing the SBO estimates with published data from the ABS, the NES-D, the ASE, and other reports of the five-year Economic Census, covering years ending in ‘‘2’’ and ‘‘7.’’

The ABS and ASE employer estimates for the annual years between the five-year economic censuses, are published in less geographic and industry detail than the ABS and SBO employer estimates for economic census years, with ABS estimates available only at the U.S. State, and MSA geographic levels, and ASE estimates available only at the U.S., State, and top fifty metro areas geographic levels, and at the 2-digit industry sector level.  

Each year, new ABS questions are submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval, based on topics of relevance. The following table shows the currently published ABS content by survey reference year.  

Content for the Annual Business Survey  


Reference Year 

Topic Modules on the Report Form



A.      Owner Characteristics 



B.      Innovation 



C.      Research & Development
(Firms with 1-9 employees only) 



D.      Technology and Intellectual Property 

Reduced (digital) 

Full (automation)  

E.       Financing 



F.       Globalization   



G.      Business Structure   



To make further comparisons on the methods used to create the ABS, the NES-D, the ASE, and the SBO tables, see the ABS Technical Documentation, the NES-D Technical Documentation, the ASE Technical Documentation, and the SBO Technical Docmentation.

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25. Why don't I see all of my data on the PDF?

If you selected the icon under “Preview Questions and Instructions” on the Step 1 – Report Dashboard, to print your survey, but you do not see the data you entered, your Adobe JavaScript may be disabled. Check your Adobe settings to ensure your Adobe JavaScript is enabled: open Adobe, go to "Edit," select "Preferences," choose "JavaScript," and check "Enable Acrobat JavaScript".

Your printed PDF may include the data you entered with some data missing (i.e., certain fields have been truncated). Note: Once submitted, the Census Bureau will be able to process all the data you reported even if some fields are truncated on the PDF. For your own records, you can print an item that has truncated fields on the PDF printout by navigating to that item on the website, and printing the item through your browser's print options.

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26. Why does the data printed on the second page of my printed item not match what is displayed on the screen?

There is an issue when using the print option in Firefox; only the first page of the item prints correctly. To fix the issue, change the browser's print scale to 100% or print using the PDF icon on the Step 1 – Report Dashboard. If necessary, check your browser's Help index to assist you in changing the print scale.

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27. Why are some background colors and images missing from my printed survey?

This is caused by the default Page Setup options in some browsers. You can fix the issue by making sure that the "Page Setup" option to print background colors and images is selected in your Internet browser.

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28. Why does the website not display correctly?

Some pages of the survey might not display correctly in some browsers. It is recommended that the online survey be completed in Mozilla Firefox (or above) or Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.0 (or above) or Google Chrome 114.0 (or above). Display issues may occur in other browsers.

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29. How should costs related to clinical trials of experimental drugs and devices be reported on this survey?

In general, a clinical trial—the testing of a medical intervention in human patients to determine its safety and efficacy—is considered a research and development activity by this survey. However, not all organizations involved in clinical trials are required to reports costs for these activities on this survey. Specifically, hospitals, clinics, and other health-related organizations with employees whose only role in the clinical trial is to follow the study protocols, monitor patients, and collect data generally should report 0 (zero) R&D for these activities. These organizations should only report compensation for clinical trials if the employees’ role in the studies extends beyond monitoring his/her own patients to the development and management of overall study protocols, such as when they are a primary investigator in a study. See below for more examples of how costs for clinical trial activity should be reported on this survey:


Clinical trial activity

Reporting instructions for the hospital

A hospital pays a contract research organization (CRO) in FY 2020 to manage an early phase trial for a medical device developed by a hospital employee.

·Check “Yes” on Question C.6 (Research Performed by Others)

·Include costs paid to the CRO in FY 2020 in Question C.15


A hospital receives a federal government grant to test the use of a chemotherapy approved to treat lymphoma to treat a different type of cancer. The primary investigators are hospital employees.

·Check “Yes” on Question C.5 (Research Performed by Your Organization)

·Include costs spent on the study in FY 2020 in Questions C.7, C.8 line a, C.9 line b, and C.10 line c column 1


A hospital agrees to act as a research site for a phase III clinical trial of a new Covid-19 vaccine developed by a pharmaceutical company. Hospital employees follow the study protocols, monitor patients, and collect data, but are not involved in the overall design and management of the study.

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·Check “No” on Question C.5 (Research Performed by Your Organization) UNLESS the hospital has other in-scope research activities.

·Do not include costs spent on the study in FY 2020 in Question C.7


Page Last Revised - July 20, 2023
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